British climbing is a little bubble of silliness, we are very fussy about where we put bolts and we are very keen on doing things first go up. Bits of rock in Britain are not just bits of rock. Oh no. They are stories, legends, inspirations, intimidators. In many ways these things hold us back, but with being a small island full of strange characters and not so full of untouched rock, these idiosyncrasies keep us amused.
We have our own strange grading system with two components; the adjectival and the technical grade. In many ways it works brilliantly and in others it falls on it's arse. There is one letter that messes with more heads in British climbing than any other and that is the letter 'E'. The more 'E's you take on the more exciting, mind-melting, and rewarding your time will be, especially if you go in clean of knowledge.
Having said all this, things can get a bit too much if you get too much 'E'. Everyone has their own level, but for many the aspirational number is the hallowed 5.
Bringing these things together; the legend, the E5, and the two jewels of North Walian climbing all distill down to two of the finest pitches in existence; Right Wall and the Positron Headwall, both E5 6a and both brilliant.
Driving up the Llanberis Pass, one crag demands more attention than any other, threatening to cause a major accident. Dinas Cromlech, and more particularly the Right Wall, home to one of the most iconic and sought after routes in the country.
Even before it's first ascent in 1974, the wall right of 'The Corner' had been looked at and talked about. Eventually it was Pete Livesay who made the first ascent, though not without drama. The correct line is difficult to see from below, causing Livesay to twice untie from his ropes and solo up Cemetary Gates, in order to abseil down and check which way to go. Subsequent attempted ascents were the scene of many a 'flyer', adding to its legend and appeal.
By modern standards the climbing is not desperate but it is still of the highest quality. All positive crimps and pockets, technical and sustained with two proper rests and a few tricky moves thrown in to keep things interesting. All this and the gear is placed from good holds allowing the climbing to flow perfectly.
Looking down the route from the jugs above the porthole, taking in the full final runout is a special memory that will live in your memory forever.
Positron, or more precisely, the Positron Headwall, is situated high on Gogarth's Main Cliff, so there is no peeking at it from below. Nor is there time for it to intimidate you at the belay before hand as the action is hidden around a corner.
Once again the first ascent has become legendary; Al Rouse and Pete Minks heading up into the unknown. On Rouse's first attempt at the headwall pitch, he pushed on pumped only to find he didn't have the correct runner, taking a massive lob knocking the pairs' transistor radio into the sea! Returning the next day with the correct runner, Rouse managed to regain his highpoint and place the runner before slumping onto it.
The story of Ron Fawcett's attempt at the first solo ascent, losing confidence in the middle of the headwall, considering jumping out so as to avoid the base of the wall and hit the sea 40m up simply adds to the folklore.
Despite being shorter and having no moves as hard as Right Wall, the Positron Headwall is a pumpy number. Being already tired from previous pitches, the strenuous and sustained nature of the climbing mean that despite it not being renowned for its boldness many opt to run it out to ensure success. With your belayer out of sight around the corner, you feel truly alone as the moves keep on coming.
Scrabbling up the final pitch as the sun sets after a big route on the Main Cliff is always a satisfying time, looking out across the Irish Sea, the wind chilling you. Soon yomping over the heather back to the racking up spot. A quick slug of water and a cereal bar, a day well spent.
Inspiration for those that have not and memories for those that have, these are the gifts that keep on giving...
- Duncan Campbell